Feeder hoops programs sticking with what works
by Mike Slodki
KANELANDâ€”For area basketball of any age to have a chance at success, you need not only players, but organization.
Such is the case with the Kaneland Silver Stars and Cagers, who continue to service the budding area players of middle school age.
Plus, with the Kaneland School District now able to retain middle school sports, there doesnâ€™t have to be changes to the already successful status quo to the feeder programs.
Focusing on grades 5-8, the older SIlver Stars are coming off a record of 46-16. For those who like to finish seasonal action strong, the Silver Stars of the 8th grade variety finished a 15-game win streak and included tournament wins at South Elgin, Grayslake and Elk Grove Village.
Head coach Jeff Heimerdinger and brother-in-law Mark Hotwagner were at the helm for the team that hoops it up in the Neuqua Valley League in Naperville, where each team plays twice against other programs in the Naperville area.
â€œI think one of our competitorâ€™s coaches summarized it best when he said â€˜The Silver Stars are incredibly tough to play because every one of the girls were solid fundamentally and understood their rolesâ€™. We went through a development process in year one and then were able to key on strategy more this year because kids were more confident in the basics,â€ Heimerdinger said.
Although a feeder travel program, all kids must live in the Kaneland School District, allowing the potential future Lady Knights to play as a team for seasons on end.
â€œWe operated under a very simple premise, be accountable to your teammates and represent the program to the best of your ability and with class. We stressed as long as they gave us their best, they could not do anything wrong,â€ Heimerdinger said.
Since the inception four years ago, Heimerdinger, whose daughter Emily suits up for both basketball and soccer at Kaneland, has noticed definite growth.
â€œThe biggest changes Iâ€™ve witnessed in the four years of the program is that teams are now starting to recognize our club and acknowledge how competitive Kaneland is becoming,â€ Heimerdinger said.
Hotwagner has seen the progress of the girls for several years.
â€œThe girls are growing up, they are able to improvise. You can only call so many plays for them,â€ Hotwagner said. â€œTheir instincts improve, and the success of the team is breeding more success and confidence.â€
â€œThe girls in the program have talent, and theyâ€™ve bought into it and they know that they need to execute,â€ Hotwagner adds.
For the Cagers, board president and 8th grade coach Joe Spitzzeri has wanted to get the 5th through 8th grade boys hoops athletes to get as in touch with the â€œbigâ€ club as possible.
â€œWeâ€™ve had coach (Brian) Johnson come and help with practice drills, and weâ€™ve been moving away from parent coaches for the higher levels and turning toward former Kaneland players to coach,â€ Spitzzeri said.
The â€œfarm teamâ€/big club connection doesnâ€™t stop there, as the Cagers, now it its sixth year of draining shots, plays its games at KHS as part of the Greater Suburban Basketball Association, along with 75 other area programs. Last year, the Cagers pocketed three tournament championships.
â€œThe whole idea is to learn the high school system and get players familiar with each other,â€ Spittzeri said.
With everything remaining status quo, one wonders what changes would have been put in place if the Kaneland Middle School sports were not saved.
â€œI believe it would have created more opportunity for a team like the Silver Stars. The cost is so minimal that parents would have encouraged their kids to participate because there would have been no other option,â€ Heimerdinger said.
â€œOur season wouldnâ€™t start until the middle school season ended anyway, so as far as big changes, I canâ€™t really see any,â€™ Spittzeri said.
That leaves the young basketball talent to worry about what they do on the court, which looks to add on to their organizational success.